David Michael Miller
Cher-Make sausages revel outside of Miller Park.
Given how matters of security have dominated the coverage of Halloween on State Street, I thought I'd take a few paragraphs here to talk about something that has been rarely talked about the past few years, strangely enough, and that is the costumes.
As you will be certainly loathe to hear, I am one of those Halloween-on-State-Street thirty-year veterans, who needs no prompting to wax wistfully at how wild things would get without any damage to people or property, something all the more incredible considering the 18-year-old drinking age was still in effect back then. But I digress. Anyway, what follows is a little sidewalk critique of the variety of the costumes I witnessed Saturday night.
In the world of Halloween on State Street, it can be said without a doubt that store-bought costumes now rule. Of course, I could go on here about how at one time spending weeks cruising the area thrift stores in order to assemble the perfect homemade costume was a large part of the fun, but you seem to be nodding off, so let's move on. Nevertheless, the popularity of places like Halloween Express have turned the masquerade into an instance of one-stop, day-before shopping.
Not only am I taken by how prevalent the store-bought costumes were, but how exactingly obscure some of them were. While I did see at flocks of Jack Sparrows from Pirates of the Caribbean (by far the evening's most popular character), I also saw a woman dressed in Uma Thurman's yellow Kill Bill ensemble, and even someone as Rick Moranis' "Dark Helmet" from the 1987 Lucas-spoof Spaceballs (I also saw a homemade costume of John Candy's "Barf" from the same flick, which heartened me to realize not every costume was off-the-rack).
I thought the film V is for Vendetta was in and out of theaters too quickly to rate its own saleable costume before I saw someone dressed as its masked avenger. Later I saw a small mob of at least a dozen revelers all wearing that same Guy Fawkes mask, an appropriate homage to both the film and graphic novel.
But esoterica can only be a plus on Halloween, and I was pleased to see at least two homemade versions of Stanley Kubrick's Droogs from 1972's A Clockwork Orange parading about, codpieces and all. Still, I saw the perennial Blues Brothers duos, three versions of the Ghostbusters crew, and two gangs of Monty Python & The Holy Grail gallopers.
Apparently, Halloween outfits are quite a revenue stream for Hollywood. This would also include TV shows. I saw many costumes inspired by Saturday Night Live--mustachioed fans of "Da Bears," the head-bobbing "Night at the Roxy" duo and one of my favorite costumes of the night: a Sean Connery wearing a Jeopardy podium in front of him who threatened partiers up and down the street in a surly Scottish brogue. I also saw numerous Sesame Street knockoffs, three Pee Wee Hermans and a couple of Stewies from Family Guy -- one store-bought, one homemade.
In fact, that seemed to be the trend: If you saw someone wearing a homemade facsimile of a well-known character, no doubt you'd see the officially authorized version somewhere down the block.
The other trend I thought disappointing was way, way too many of those "Naughty Nurse" getups. While actual health care professionals may debate the sexiness of draining pus or changing a bedpan, apparently the night nurse has now surpassed those other fantasy arch-types, the cheerleader and the Catholic school girl.
That seemed to be the overriding style of most of the female costumes I saw: Each possible costume had its own eroticized variant. I saw sexy cops, sexy spies, sexy firefighters, even a troop of mini-skirted Brownies. I also noticed this trend creeping up on other costumes. I saw at least four Wizard of Oz Dorothys in the traditional pigtails and blue gingham, but more than half of them were sporting thigh-high white hose and red ribbon garters. Aunty Em would not approve.
I happened to catch Real Time with Bill Maher the other night when he postulated that Halloween is just an excuse for women to dress like whores, nevertheless encouraging it as an opportunity for women to embrace their "inner slut." I bristled at this a bit, but then Saturday night I saw more fishnets and high heels than you would see at a local club's Fetish Night. I always thought women in those costumes avoided the State Street bash, because it invited unwelcome groping in a crowd of drunken strangers. Then again, walking around in 40 degree weather with bare thighs and midriff is a puzzler to me also.
But the most scantily clad of the evening were three guys in butt-floss thongs and bowties, who dashed around rubbing against anyone who would notice them. In the same vein, probably the best non-costume I saw was a guy in his street clothes wearing a sign around his neck that read, "Nudist On Strike."
Religiously-themed costumes made their yearly presence known, with the usual array of popes, priests and (pregnant) nuns. Given the numbers of actual Christian evangelists up and down the street this year, I found these most humorous when the wearers fell out of character: an impatient Santa smoking a cigarette or a Jesus on a cell phone. Indeed, the ubiquitous cell phones were many costume's unintended accessory, a common sight being a pixie standing on the corner with one finger against her eardrum screaming "WHERE ARE YOU??!!" into her cell.
Another staple of Halloween costumedom can be best described as the inanimate object rendered alive. I saw at least three iPods, a walking nightstand and lamp, a giant sprig of organic broccoli, a mammogram machine, a Gameboy console, a scratch-off lottery card, and a functional Tetris game. These were all homemade costumes, but their bulkiness never seemed to weather the crowds very well. By evening's end, most of them had morphed into Corrugated Cardboard Man. Still, they get an 'A' for effort.
Topical costumes have always been a favorite, but this year they seemed in short supply. Aside from the lazy-ass Bush and Cheney masks and poorly-bearded Osamas, the only costumes that seemed ripped from the headlines seemed to be the three different teams of Duke lacrosse players. One group must have ordered the official team merchandise online, while a more slap-dash group paraded around with an inflatable nude victim. Now I'm for poor taste on Halloween as the next fellow, but their shouts of "Yeah, rape!" were a little disquieting.
I did spy a khakied and bloodied Steve Erwin escorted by a couple of stingrays. And I also saw a guy in a suit with "Maf54" over his breast pocket, but the effect seemed diminished by the necessity of having to put Rep. Mark Foley's name in parentheses underneath.
In a crowd where people are more likely to be more clued into popular culture than current events, having to explain who you are is the drawback of a lot of topical costumes. Nothing I saw Saturday topped last year's masterstroke: a guy dressed as the notorious Minnesota Vikings pleasure yacht, with his head poking out the top deck and a workable doll lying across his puppet body, fellating his broom-handle pecker.
In the end, the costumes I most admired were not only homemade, but acted out to the hilt by their wearers.
I saw not one but two teams of Cher-Make sausage racers, sprinting in and around the crowds. The two squads met at the foot of State to the chants of "Sausage Fight! Sausage Fight!" but the moment passed without incident. I also got a kick out of at least five version of Borat, the pseudo-Kazakhastanian journalist created by Sascha Baron Cohen and soon-to-be featured on the big screen. Not that there was much to the costume other than a gray suit, Brillo hair and a mustache, but each of the Borats played the role with relish, hectoring the other attendees in perfect bad-accented English.
I think if there's any sort of, ahem, "magic" to Halloween on State Street, it is in those who become fully transformed by their trappings. They are no longer a student at the big Midwestern university, but are instead defending their date's honor with an inflatable light saber in random meetings with complete strangers. If the goal for many was to get puking drunk (and I saw a few who met that goal), I think the real winners were those who, for just one night, succeeded in becoming someone other than themselves.